The Most Amazing Breakfast I Will Ever Die At

2007 August 23
by Vanir

When I was about 7, my brother got the D&D Basic Set, and as a consequence I knew who Gary Gygax was pretty early on. I started playing D&D myself when I was about 12, and his name was still printed all over practically every sourcebook I owned. I always wondered what he’d look like and what kind of person he was. In 1997, I attended my very first Gen Con, and I was in awe of the giant sales floor. I’d never seen anything like it before, and all the companies from Dragon magazine that I wanted to order stuff from over the years were all right there. In retrospect, it’s probably good that I didn’t have a large credit limit yet. Anyway, I wandered into a a booth to look at some books and I realized I’d tripped on someone’s feet. It happens, I’m tall and I don’t always look where I’m going. I looked down and noticed an older gentleman who came about up to my chest. Imagine my surprise when my brain finally caught up to the name printed on his badge: “GARY GYGAX”. I don’t have to imagine my surprise. I said “OH. BEH BUH SORRY!” and I got out of there as fast as I could. A similar incident happened the next year, followed by a similar unintelligible outburst, and a failing of my fear check. And I didn’t see Mr. Gygax again until this year. I’m sure he was around, I just didn’t run into him again (no pun intended). I saw him on the sales floor on Friday, signing books.

On Saturday, I attended Hickman’s Killer Breakfast, which turned out to be every bit as awesome as I’d heard. Basically, Tracy Hickman is a killer DM, and literally a hundred first level PCs have to amuse the DM somehow to survive. And we were in Ravenloft this year, so that was basically completely impossible. I arrived early because I thought it’d be packed, and to my dismay I couldn’t find the generic tickets I had bought for this event. Fortunately, a kind couple walked right in front of me to the ticket taker and said “We have an extra ticket we’re not using. If someone else could –” and and that point I was on my feet going “OOH OOH ME ME ME”, except in a much more polite way. I hope. I had the choice of being a spectator, or being killed with the rest of the players. I didn’t come all this way to spectate, I wanted to be killed by the best. So, I lined up with the players.

Before too long, a man in a black shirt came out and everybody started cheering. I had no idea who he was. I thought they were cheering because they were going to let us in. It was shortly thereafter that I was struck with a very important realization — Tracy Hickman was a dude. Up until last week, I thought Dragonlance was written by two women. How do you love and cherish a person’s creative works for almost 20 years AND NOT KNOW THIS? I felt the geek cred seeping out of my body, and I wondered how I was to survive the next two hours.

They marched us into the ballroom seperately from the spectators, and somehow or another my row got ushered into the spectators section and a staffer came over and put us back with the players about two rows back from where we should have sat. Soon the event started, and Tracy and Laura Hickman (OK, I admit it — I thought they were sisters until last week) came out and started singing a parody of The Phantom of the Opera. A “safety presentation” was then shown, and then the carnage began. You had to say why your character was there right then, and it had better not be boring or you died. That let you live one round. And you better DO something brave, stupid, or entertaining the next round or you would die. Also, if anyone around you did something stupid you died. You were pretty much hosed.

I’m usually pretty good at coming up with random funny ideas. I was choking. Hard. I thought briefly about several jokes about how I got there ranging from “I’m here to pick up goth chicks” to “my mom and dad gave each other a special hug” (which thankfully, someone else did and he killed them on the spot). But when I was called up to go backstage, I was out of ideas. About 30 seconds before I got onstage, my random thought generator kicked in, and I got an idea. A funny one. I just hoped everyone else thought it was too.

So I got on stage and I was just about to sit down when Tracy Hickman says “STOP STOP STOP! We have a celebrity that needs to be killed next!”. And I look to my left and Gary Gygax walks on stage. The crowd goes completely bat-shit insane, and a stupid, indelible grin crosses my face. I almost forget to sit down when Tracy tells us to. And that’s when I realize I can only vaguely remember what I was going to say. Fortunately, there was one guy before me and he said something dumb and got killed horribly, giving me time to remember. And so it was, playing D&D with Gary Gygax in front of a crowd of hundreds with Tracy Hickman as my Dungeon Master, I uttered the following words in my best attempt at imitating Peter Cullen:

“I am Optimus Strahd. MegaSoth must be stopped, no matter the cost.”

That’s right. Who of you is nerd enough to make a Transformers joke in front of two D&D legends, one of whom created the characters you just transformed into undead robots? I AM NERD ENOUGH. Thank GOD everybody laughed, I thought my heart was going to stop.

The guy between me and Gary dies, and Gary says he got there by hitchhiking. We’re both still alive. Tracy starts over the table again after telling us a horde of vampires led by Strahd is coming one way and zombies led by Soth the other and we’re in the middle. The guy next to me dies. Then it’s my turn:

“I transform into a bat and ROLL OUT!”

Less laughter that time, but it’s enough to keep me alive. Gary burrows underground, which was smart because the guy at the end of the row hands Tracy a piece of paper with the following words on it: “I prepared Explosive Runes this morning.” The crowd went completely nuts, mostly because it was a hilarious joke from Order of the Stick, a very popular D&D webcomic (and one of my personal favorites). All of us died, except for Gary, who was underground. He died shortly thereafter, when somebody threw the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

It wasn’t until I sat down that I realized HOLY SHIT I JUST PLAYED D&D WITH GARY GYGAX AND TRACY HICKMAN. Even if it was for only 2 minutes and 17 seconds. And the shame of not knowing Tracy’s gender? Fellow gamers, I am healed.

(Special thanks to neal_swint who graciously allowed me to use this picture from his flickr set. I was really hoping all this wasn’t some sort of E.L. Fudge-fueled hallucination!)

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